Tag Archives: Mental Health

Acceptance in the Age of Terror

We don’t know the limits of life’s horror.

There are so many evils that we will never know. We are not in a world where we could be sent to concentration camps because our opinions do not align with the government’s (though, outside of the west, this can still happen), we are free to express our dissent in protest, online and in press, though some would argue that the scope of this freedom is being slowly eroded by various means, and we have jobs and some level of welfare (again variable) to protect us from the very real and very easy to fall into trap or homelessness.

So, with that, what is our oppressor in this modern world? What is left to fear and to fight in the west?

Fabricated terror.

What do I mean by this?

I mean that we live in a world which is saturated by lies. We are drowning in advertisement, we are suffocating in media, both online and in print, and we are asphyxiated by the increasing avenues of society to perceive us as ‘other’.

Advertisement is everywhere. It tells us constantly ‘you need this, you wouldn’t be as happy without this thing that you can buy.’, but it’s all lies. In fact, having worked adjacently to the marketing team in the company that I work for, I can tell you, they make a living from creative lying. This is disappointing, that the only forms of creativity in which we can find a living easily, should be the ones in which we must instantly discard our integrity. Exaggerated claims about the longevity or performance of products is the first outrage, though it is rife and quite commonplace in this area of work. Then, what about the fact that the marketing department, who have all the money and power, who tell us what we can and cannot do, will wilfully expect us to lie to customers about the claims a product can make, or even to avoid the truth that sometimes there are limitations and that these limitations on a product’s ability should be respected. I find that customers appreciate that honesty more than any unbridled claims about how much a product can do for the value of its cost. And then, as if to take it to the limits of incredulity, they would withhold product faults or issues from us, the front line staff who must fix the problems, for fear that we are untrustworthy. There is no greater hypocrisy, no greater insult to the genuine staff that I work with.

Every cell of the body of marketing companies is without integrity, from the creativity, to the authority, to the obfuscation of truth, which hampers our ability to help customers. There is no integrity in advertising before you even reach the advert at hand.

And then let us look at the products themselves.

What do they look like? Smiling white toothed models holding products tenderly and proudly, like new-born babies. Except where is paternal love? Cold, dead eyes stare back through LED screens at bus stops and on billboards. There is no love here, only spiders, sharks, and vultures behind white porcelain veneers. And what of those things that they would sell to you? A mortgage? With expressive coolness, they say we can lift you up when you need to make that big life decision, yet, do we even know where the term comes from? ‘Mortgage’ means ‘death loan’. It was used to describe a sum of money you would pay until you were dead. Rather grimmer in reality than as posed to us in advertising. And what happens when you cannot pay your mortgage? Ultimately, they will repossess your home. What does ‘repossess’ mean? It meant to ‘start again’ or more viscerally, it could mean an ‘undoing’. A creative term for obliteration and recycling of home, of life as it was. And still, we cannot see how, underneath the language of advertising, there is so much violence and misery. Smiling mortgage providers extend a hand, all the while, they have leashes around the necks of mortals who will wear them until death, and whose homes can be yanked from beneath them when life takes a turn for the worse.

I am reminded perhaps of the buddhist teaching that grasping for material things, like products etc are a fast track to misery and emptiness. And we cannot breathe in our society for the grasping! Everywhere you look, some talon, miserable, wan, clammy, dead, extends and swipes, hoping to land its sharp sinus in your mind-flesh. We are fatigued because we step into waking life under siege from all angles, but not the kind which forces the body to move and take evasion from, but attacks on the mind, bamboozling us in every waking moment of every day. We are indeed living in a nightmare and there are evils waiting for us always. What must our subconscious landscape look like at this point? Deep, scoured craters, trenches, scarred, muddy battlefields, and desolate to boot.

This is the first terror, and it is a terror which plays on the subconscious as soon as we wake, ravaging our inner mind, so sensitive that it is, we do significant damage without even knowing it.

Then what of the media? Is there ever a good word to say about the world? It makes it no less true of course that bad things happen every day, but we know this, we implicitly understand that life can be filled with tragedy and it will touch all of us human beings at various points in our lives.

So what is this constant reminding? Yes, it has its purposes. We must not forget the past, for if we do, we can bring it about again through forgetting, but that is what history is for, which should be taught and passed down by communities and schools and parents and relatives. The media does not play an active part in the dissemination of history, but rather in current events. So we are bombarded with the worst miseries of modern times from across the globe. And it is worse because now there are not just newspapers and radios, there are also computers, smart phones, televisions etc which can send information to us more quickly than at any other time in human history. How can we deal with so much misery, so readily and quickly available. The mind again lays itself out to be flayed and stuffed, like foie gras ducks, we are stuffed until we are sick to death. It is true that our impulses and attention are quick to gravitate towards negativity, in the fact that our base brains are powerful, primal and quick. But it is our humanity which lives in the outer most parts, the prefrontal cortex and higher brain which control our ability to be empathic and good, and to form strong, meaningful relationships with other human beings.

The media highjack of our base impulses is the second terror.

Then what of our avatars in this world, where information flows to quickly and spreads vastly under the right conditions?

Social media, where we put our lives online to show others who we are is dangerous. No version of ourselves which appears through the internet is fair and representative. We want to be successful and revered in the eyes of our peers, so we often lie about how we feel. Curiously though, I have started to see a new phenomena, the rise of the ‘down to earth’ media star. They burp, fart, talk about real shit and their vulnerability with the world. And this too is an insult to our humanity. There is a paradoxical lack of integrity in the very act of putting all of yourself onto the internet. A camera always makes us behave differently because a camera is not a person, it is an inanimate object which captures our likeness. We can only communicate by way of in person exchange. Energy flows between life, not the cold dead barrier of camera lens or social media profile. Something is lost in translation. The soul, perhaps, the integrity perhaps also, but we are so desperate for love that we will take this half-filtered shadow and accept our fate.

And then we say something online that can be taken out of context. And the likes of twitter can be the catalyst to the utter destruction or exaltation of anyone or anything in about an hour. ‘Tweeting’ is a form of mass hysteria which is more revolting than anything I could every imagine. And now we all know that what we say online can be taken by little birds, cut, edited and morphed into something grotesque with the power to abjectly destroy your life, no matter if it is true or not. Once it happens, whether you are later cleared or not, there is no way to reclaim your integrity. People have stopped being interested once the the hysteria has passed. They now only retain the perception which made them excited, which in almost all cases is shy of the truth, or abjectly false. We are living in post-truth. It matters not if something is real, only that it could be real.

Hear say has always existed, but the extent to which this can then become global truth is alarming.

This is the third terror of modern life.

And so we can see how life is plagued by sinister and pale oppressive forces which barrage the psyche at every waking moment. Once, long ago in the medieval period, we believed in demons, spirits and angels, the wrathful vengeance of God and other divine entities. Are we any better now? I could make an argument that we are actually worse.

We know our enemy, we know where it stems from, but still, we let it suck us dry.

Advertisement, news, and social media, the new demons and wrathful Gods of the modern age.

How to tackle this new threat is a whole new article, but I will leave you with this rather commonly quoted passage from Chinese General Sun Tzu:

“Know thy enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are sure to be defeated in every battle.”

Sun Tzu

Acceptance, knowing who we are and what the enemy is, will be salves and healing potions in this phase of monsters and mythical terrors.

Follow @heathen.life for the next instalment.

The Maddening Stencil

Trauma is like a stencil over which we view the picture of our life. It obscures the totality, leaving only jagged shapes where an ocean vista should be.

Meditation and trauma work help us dissolve the stencil, so that we can finally see the world for what it is. Beautiful, chaotic, ugly, serene, high, wide, low and narrow. It is all of this and more, but it is allowed to exist as a complete tapestry.

This is the freedom to associate with chaos in a modality which is inherently saturated with opportunity. A wave on the scene might crash. But instead of it being the only thing you can see, the death of a wave, the end of everything, you know that more are coming, all the time, over and over again. Each movement is followed by more movement. Each opportunity is not final.

And through knowing that even when we lose something, life goes on, we can make peace with almost anything. Death, even, which scares so many, tends to lose its nightmarish quality in the wake of understanding which comes through knowing the bigger picture.

Why fear the last breath, when the wind will take it and feed the trees? Movement,flow, life, death. All are linked, all flow into each other and out again, like the rising and falling of the sea.

Dissolve the stencil. See the whole. There is less to be feared when we see everything for what it is.

Are You Walking or Talking? – The Pitfalls of Nature Walks in Modern Times

I am very lucky to have a small group of friends who appreciate nature. They enjoy it, take it in, listen to it, look at it, say very little, and are comfortable with long pauses to admire the outdoors. Now, I am no expert, but I imagine not everyone is so patient with the countryside. Some walking partners really only want an excuse to exercise, talk, a lot, or take pictures for their new Instagram account. Please do not misconstrue me, I am not saying that, in order to appreciate nature, you should not do these things at all, walking around like some hermetical sage wizard who has transcended the responsibilities of trivial human affairs, but many people do too much else when they’re out walking.

When you’re taking pictures, talking too much, or focusing on the steps, you’re not getting the benefits of the countryside that really make you feel alive. By this I mean, the sound of dead twigs under foot, the soft rustling of low bushes, batted gently by swirling gusts, and the pale-gold sunshine warming your cheeks after the cold wind whips them rosy red. In these winter months, you relish the scarcity of bird song, and the sounds of streams, their notes richer, deeper, and more viscous in the icy temperatures. You see animals and plants that are different dependent on the seasons, and you see skies that vary greatly and elicit as many emotions as there are colours in them.

When you can tune into this, you’re communing with nature and it speak to us, in whispers at first. With other people, sometimes loud, well-meaning though I am sure, the chances of you being able to hear it, to see it and appreciate it fully reduce.

I propose that, even if you’ve never tried it before, or you think it odd, that to go out into nature alone is worth doing. If you’ve never done it before, consider it a challenge from me to you. Take a public footpath, or venture further out to a landmark with your car. Just go by yourself. Or, if you really can’t face it, take someone with you that you know you can be comfortably silent with for stretches of time. This is important. The more that you listen to nature in the quiet, the louder it speaks. I believe this can be very healing if you suffer from any mental health issues or physical illnesses. I often find myself feeling much better following a walk, more optimistic, focussed and alive. I credit this with taking in the landscape, which feeds my vitality, while talking too much or using technology, drains it.

Nature walking is a very special activity. Many of us enjoy it with others, which is no bad thing. Just remember, the sounds, sights and sensations of the outdoors are quiet, require patience and attention, and are worth a more thoughtful, tacit and pensive approach. Nature heals, if you listen. Sadly, the social responsibilities and technological commodities of the modern era can wildly distract us and decrease our ability to enjoy and benefit from nature. So, are you walking or are you talking? Choose your friends and smart tech wisely.

Follow me on Heathen (top right by my face) for more mental health tips. Be sure to share these articles with friends and loved ones who you want to look out for in these difficult times. Walking outdoors can be a very rewarding experience if you are able to tune into the landscape thoughtfully. Even if you have never tried this before, I encourage you to take a walk by yourself. See what you discover with nothing but the trees and wind for company. I wish you happiness and health in the New Year.

You’re Killing Yourself – Meditate on Your Inner Critic

It’s taken me a long time to notice that voice. Always picking faults and putting me down. That’s not me, but it’s a powerful echo from childhood that, until recently I could not even name. This voice, so hard to detect at first, has made me doubt myself, hate myself, and talk down to myself. It’s made me skip out on opportunities that could have created joy and personal growth, and it’s constantly, and tersely, requesting that I hide myself away.

It’s been a long time coming for that voice inside that’s trying to kill my creativity and snuff out my opportunities to grow. I realised what was happening when I started to pay closer attention to my body and my thoughts. This, with the help of meditation, encouraged me to understand and engage with the thoughts that drove me to self-sabotage. By distancing myself from the thoughts that came and went, causing depression and anxiety as I held onto them and let them drag me down, I was able to lift myself up. When you pay attention to the thoughts and their negative hold, you can better disengage from them. Once you do this, you can start to work the other way, catching yourself in the process of critical self-talk, distancing and changing the thought pattern.

Instead of ‘I’m a failure’, I now see that I have a thought which thinks: ‘you are failing’, but it is neither true, nor me, only a thought. Once I can get to this point, putting the breaks on things, I can then reverse engineer the thought and latch onto a positive iteration. ‘I am not a failure. I am doing my best under difficult circumstances with little support. This is hard, and anyone would struggle to be successful under these conditions.’ Also, what is failure? Making mistakes might be a failure in the short-term, but you have an entire life to live and mistakes are part of the process of learning. You can’t really be a mistake. We humans are ever-changing and ever-developing. What I am today, I may not be tomorrow. So can anyone be a failure? I’m not sure it’s even possible, so long as you believe that failure is a state preceding success, rather than something which cannot change.

What about ‘You are ugly’? So what? There are plenty of successful AND ugly people in the world. Besides which, what I may deem ugly, others may deem beautiful, as attraction varies widely. Love is about more than what you look like. In fact, I could go so far as to say what you look like matters very little. What about how well you care for your partner? What about how interesting you are? Are you funny? That goes some way, believe me! Do you read a lot? Have you got a good mind? There are so many facets of human beauty outside of what your body looks like. And let’s face it, without some serious and dangerous surgery, you’re stuck with what you’ve got, so look after it and let it be!

If you can put the breaks on your thoughts and look at them from a distance, as meditation teaches you to do, you’re no longer so close that the thought and you are one. I am not a failure because I do not belong to this thought. I am not ugly, because a thought about how I may look ugly, is not one I wish to choose to attach myself to. In the famous words of the French philosopher Renes Descartes: ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Meditation gives you the ability to pick which associations you wish to give the power of ‘I’ to, and which you do not. This is a supremely powerful gift, and one I hope that anyone can use.

Here’s a task for you to do. Meditate once a week or try to do this when you are stressed or feeling bad about yourself. Do this for 10 minutes using a guided meditation like the headspace app (my favourite). I would recommend trying the skill of ‘noting’ which is about acknowledging a thought, noting it, and giving it no further fuel to turn into a problem. Then, once you’ve figured out what negative thoughts are shouting the loudest, write three of them down on paper. Once you have these, take one at a time, firstly writing about how the thought came from your mind, but does not belong to you, the ‘I’ part of yourself. Then, think about a few ways that this thought doesn’t matter or is not important to your values. Ultimately, we are striving to learn, develop and find love, joy and happiness. If the thought doesn’t give you these things, let it be and don’t associate with it. Doing this a few times over the space of weeks and months can allow you to stop your inner critic from killing your positive inner voice.

We’re all fighting a battle with a silent killer, the critic, a manifestation of thoughts about you which do not, in reality, belong to you. They are the external voices of many of the harsh experiences in your life. Meditation can help you freeze these thoughts from the critic, become more aware of them, and then, reverse engineer more positive thoughts which you can choose to claim as your own. You are not at the mercy of your inner critic, but you do need to out it and make it visible, otherwise it will continue to kill your true, authentic self until you do.

Follow me on Heathen (top right by my face) for more mental health tips. Be sure to share these articles with friends and loved ones who you want to look out for in these difficult times. Meditation opens up to the critic and gives us tools to manage this voice. You deserve that dialogue, so you can be happier, healthier and more fulfilled in your life. Good health to you.

The SAD Survival Kit – 7 Ways to Feel Better Instantly

You’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or maybe you’re just having a bad day. Whatever is happening for you, you’re in a slump and you don’t know how to get out of it. This list is about reminders. When we’re in a low place, we need to be reminded of the steps we can take immediately to pull ourselves out and get back to normality. When you’re down, you’re not thinking properly, so it takes prompts or friends to help us back up. In a way, this article is meant as a friend. A list which can pull you up and get you back on your feet. We’re not always surrounded by company, more so than ever during a global pandemic, so we need to adapt. Here are 7 things you can do to look after yourself on your own and get back on your feet.

Keep warm

Photo by Ergyn Meshekran on Unsplash

Temperature can be a game changer for mood and in these cold winter months, we can forget to keep warm. If you can afford to put the boiler on, turn the temperature up until you’re comfortable. 19-21 degrees celsius (approx 66-70 farenheit) is optimal. If you can’t afford that, a hot water bottle under the covers can give you a much needed boost and also something to hold onto for comfort. Set a timer for heating to come on before you usually wake up for a couple of hours in the morning, and in the evening. Keep doors and windows shut. At night, tuck your curtains behind radiators to avoid heat loss and close them.

Drink something hot

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

Following on from keeping warm, a nice hot drink can really lift the spirits. You could have herbal teas, black tea or coffee. If you feel like you need something more, have a hot chocolate. Remember, self care is about determining what works for you and what you enjoy the most.

Go for a walk

Photo by Dan Burton on Unsplash

During the cold months, walking is not something you might typically like to do, but it is so effective at fighting low mood. If you’re particularly susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, where mood plummets in winter, you’re likely not getting enough sunshine, and therefore vitamin D. Your body can only make vitamin D through the skin and its interactions with sunlight. During periods of lower daylight, a 20 – 30 minute walk in the light hours can really make a difference. The cardiovascular exercise of walking is also a great mood booster.

Meditate

Photo by Stephanie Greene on Unsplash

I’m a firm believer in the power of meditation and I frequently sing the praises of the Headspace app. As someone who ruminates, experiences low mood and high levels of anxiety, this app and 10-20 minutes of meditation a day, has saved me more times than I can count. Meditation teaches you to acknowledge your thoughts as just that, thoughts, with no power over you. You pay attention to them and let them pass. You don’t need to follow or latch onto a thought, but it’s very tempting at times to do this. The technique allows us a few degrees of separation from our thoughts so that we don’t have to give them control over us.

Write a journal

Photo by BENCE BOROS on Unsplash

Can you spend a few minutes thinking about what you did today or yesterday? Even if you don’t want to reflect on the past, you could write about the thoughts that you are having. Putting thoughts down on paper is an excellent way of transferring them. You’re offloading data which frees your mind up to think about other things. This is a similar unburdening as you experience through meditation, but writing can work better for some, so it’s worth a go. It’s also great to have a routine at the end of the day to spend 15 minutes writing about your day. This can give some structure if you’re feeling lost.

Tidy your space

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

This is a tricky one. I know more than most that sometimes you just don’t have the energy or inclination to tidy up, but if you can do it, a clean space makes all the difference to your wellbeing. Sometimes we let things get so on top of us and become so used to it as the status quo, that we can’t remember what it felt like to have a tidy place. If you can do it, it’s worth it.

Invest in a hobby

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

If you like drawing, find a small spot where you can do this whenever you want. Do you like to read? Make a comfy place for yourself and read. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, do more of it, even if you don’t feel like it. I guarantee that you will feel better afterwards. A small word of advice though, if your hobby is creative and you tend to be critical, it can help to be mindful that you may not love what you create and that’s ok! Just put it aside and come back later. Perhaps it will look better tomorrow. Whatever it is that you feel about what you make, try not to give it too much power. You’re in a low place and that will cloud your judgement. You did it, and that’s all that counts.

This list is by no means revolutionary. These are things that many people may do from time to time, but when you’re in a bad place, it helps to have quick, simple prompts that can call you to action. You now remember that you can help yourself by:

  1. Keeping warm
  2. Grabbing a hot drink
  3. Going for a walk
  4. Meditating for 10-20 minutes
  5. Writing in your journal at the end of the day for 15 minutes
  6. Tidying your space
  7. Setting up a space to do more of the hobbies you love

This is a simple, but effective way to lift your mood instantly and I hope that the simple layout of advice can get you to feel empowered when you’re feeling down. We need to look out for each other, even when we can’t be together.

Follow me on Heathen (top right hand corner) for more mental health tips. Be sure to share these articles with friends and loved ones who you want to look out for in these3 difficult times. Self care is extremely important and something we need to do for ourselves. I hope you feel better soon!

Dieting Is Restrictive and That’s Exactly How It Needs to Be

‘Dieting’, as a term, gets a bad wrap these days. 

You hear the usual bombastic responses from people:

‘Dieting is restrictive.’

‘Dieting can lead to eating disorders.’

‘Dieting can create unhealthy relationships with food.’

The problem is, we’re already past the stage where we get to have a healthy relationship with food. The food we are given, except for the very basic wholefoods that we can buy, are laced with destructive toxins, like hormones, additives, preservatives, pesticides, and antibiotics. These chemicals are already wreaking havoc on our digestion, causing systemic toxicity, which then leads to inflammation. Sustained inflammation feeds into the development of chronic illnesses, like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. 

When we tell someone that they have an ‘eating disorder’ because they choose to be selective about their eating habits, we are often making an unfair, uninformed, and unsubstantiated comment about somebodies lifestyle choices. 

The fact of the matter is, our food has never been so poisonous. Sweeteners cause weight gain. Preservatives have been shown to exacerbate behavioural problems. Sugar (abundantly present in a wide range of shop-bought foods) definitively increases risk for obesity, leading to other chronic health conditions. Poisonous produce is abundant, poorly understood, and often advertised as ‘health promoting’. 

Is it any wonder some of us feel the need to restrict in order to survive — even thrive — under these conditions? 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not in any way saying that eating disorders do not exist — they unequivocally do, but the negative value judgements that the typical person imbues on dieters is unfounded, and even, ignorant. 

I think dieters and any person who is on the road to a healthier life, should reclaim the term. Yes, dieting is restrictive, and, unfortunately, as food corps pump more and more toxic junk into our foods, a healthy diet will have to be.

We have got to completely re-frame the way that we view dieting or lifestyle changes in society. Did you know that the American Diabetic Association is funded by coca cola? What does that statement say to you? Can you read between the lines? Big food companies do not want to help you, they want to control the information which is being given. This is a game of damage limitation, and big food companies have their fingers in all the pies. 

It is up to dieters, and those who take it upon themselves to reform their eating through big lifestyle changes, to do their research, and find a diet which works to make them feel healthier and happier. 

About a year ago, following a particularly stressful period, I started to develop symptoms. These symptoms ranged from hip, knee and ankle pain, to drastic mood swings and even periodic, uncontrollable crying and laughter. My symptoms were disconcerting. I was determined to find the root cause. 

On that journey, I discovered a lot about my particular dietary needs. I learned about lactose and gluten sensitivity, and I learned about the effects of a highly westernised diet on conditions of chronic pain and neurological disorders. My conclusion? Certain foods had to go. These are foods that I had grown up with as a child, foods that were deemed to be fine, even good for you. They were doing me harm, and I wish I’d had the courage to intervene and improve my life sooner. 

I spent years with serious mood swings and emerging chronic pain, to my mind, the beginnings of arthritis. I am only 28 years old. To be in that position at my age was devastating, but I had to act. I needed research and fundamental changes in perspective to find a way to heal. 

It’s still a process. I still eat foods that I have learned are bad for me from time to time, but the key is, I’ve significantly reduced this intake. I think a diet might cross into the eating disorder territory when it gets to the black and white elimination of an ever increasing range of foods. In contrast, a healthy tapering of some known allergens is a good route to a more sustainable and healthy life. 

I’ve cut out milk. I was intolerant to cows milk as a baby, before allergies were properly understood, but somehow, as I grew older, I lost touch with that understanding. This was the first to go, and you wouldn’t believe how easy it was. I only had milk in my coffee. As soon as I accepted black coffee as a delicious alternative, I never needed milk again, and my health began to improve. Boom, one busted, a few more to go. 

Gluten, now this is a bit more tricky. How do you get rid of something that is a staple in the western diet? The answer is, ‘with a great deal more difficulty’. Tapering has been the most effective thing in this instance. Just gradually getting rid of bread. For lunch, I’ll try a salad, or maybe a smoothie instead. More wholefoods, less gluten. It’s not easy, but it is doable with time. 

I also cut out soda — all kinds. I just drink water, coffee, and herbal teas. Sometimes this is hard, as water can get a bit dull, but to be honest, as long as I have my coffee, I don’t miss soda too much. I’m pretty happy not to touch it, and my urge to drink it is non-existent. 

My point is this, if you need to cut foods from your diet to feel healthier and happier, do it. Please. You need to look out for yourself first. If ‘restrictive’ dieting helps you feel more like yourself, more like the you you always knew you could be, then just do it. Peer pressure, judgement, and outdated views about food are not your problem. Your problem is figuring out how to make your life more enjoyable. If you’re like me, you’ve probably felt sluggish, run down, and low in mood. You may even be suffering from something like fibromyalgia, arthritis or MS. These lethargic and painful states require you to rethink your nutrition plan. Some of that may well involve restricting certain foods, and that’s ok. 

This is not a drill. Not all food is your friend, and your ‘friends’ may not support that view. Just tell them that you’re not doing it for them, this is for you. We need to start reclaiming the word ‘dieter’. We’re restricting because the food industry is no longer supporting our health in the ways that they claim to be. We have a duty to restrict where this can save us from foods that harm us. For those of you battling food intolerances, mood swings, and chronic physical pain, ‘dieting’ is not a bad word. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Dieting is restrictive, yes, but that restriction is about preservation, not obsession. Keep doing what makes you feel better. 

When it comes to your health, diet for you, for your preservation, for your livelihood, and for your well being. Never let the people around you talk you down. Trust your instincts, work out what feels right, and follow it relentlessly. ‘Restriction’ is not a bad word. ‘Dieting’ is not a bad word. Claim them back, then claim your health as well. 

Dietsolation – How What We Eat Can Divide Us

There’s a lot of fear that comes with food.

Fear that we eat too much. Fear that eat eat too little. Fear that we are hurting our health. Fear that we cannot have a normal relationship with food. Fear that our diet makes us different from other people.

These are all fears I experience sometimes.

Now let me hit you with a few oughts that feed the fear.

I ought to eat more healthily.

I ought to be healthier.

I ought to enjoy food.

It’s really heartbreaking when you see other people around you, succeeding, even treating food as a triviality, as something that merely goes in the mouth and keeps the body ticking.

There is pain in seeing the way others get on with food. How they can take it for granted, enjoy it for the taste alone, even maintain a healthy lifestyle without obsessing over it.

Food can be painful for us. Eating can be control. It’s often an enmeshing of a host of meticulous, exhausting titrations and layers, like creating the finest chef’s cuisine, with none of the feeling of satisfaction for making it.

I don’t like my relationship with food. Eating too much is guilt, misery and chastisement. When I eat for the pleasure and release of emotional pain, I am only reminded of how tied up food is with my sense of self, my ego and my emotional baggage.

The wold is out of control.

You have no control.

You cannot even choose what you put in your mouth.

Only babies need help putting the right food in their mouths. Like a baby, you are not fit to have control over your life.

That drifting hopelessness is all too familiar for many of us. Depression is like staring into oblivion, tied to a thread, tied to a stick, that’s being held by someone you don’t trust, who’s lackadaisically relying on a pilot they don’t know, to keep you steady. There’s no feeling quite like it. You’re an astronaut, not quite cut loose into the depths, but in severe danger of it.

That’s why some of us (including me) like to diet. It gives us some fleeting control back. No longer are we thinking ‘I have no choice but to trust in the environment, in chaos’, but rather, ‘I get to choose. I am in charge here.’. No longer are you facing the depths of open space with nothing but a needle thread and your hooligan-disaster-buddy his unreliable, probably unlicensed, cowboy-space-pilot to save you. You’re driving the ship, you’ve booted out the space monkeys of dubious origins, and you’re driving somewhere, with a steering wheel (or whatever it is they use in space).

Dieting can give us that control, for a moment at least.

The problem is, once you get out in your space boat, how long before you get lonely? How long before you run out of juice? How long before you give up on your destination?

Usually, it’s not that long, give or take your god-given resolve and tenacity.

What is worse is how taking back control through dieting can actually reinforce the sense of loneliness and otherness in your life, further driving you to sadness.

I’ve spent no end of time dieting, and the truth is, it can make you feel very lonely.

Often, your reasons are the first thing which creates the schism.

‘I’m dieting for my health.’

‘But you don’t look ill, what are you going to eat?’

‘I am going to try and eat more wholefoods and cut out junk.’

‘Oh, uh, ok, I couldn’t live without my takeaways!’

You couldn’t live without the takeaways? I might be reading too much into it, but does that mean you think I want to die? And if you do think that, well you can’t think much of me. We all know that suicide (sadly) is a taboo. People who are suicidal are some of the worst treated and most poorly regarded in society. Why? Because people don’t enjoy dealing with emotions. They want a hassle-free, easy life.

Half the time, just saying you want to eat healthier separates you because people think you’re trying to become better than them. It couldn’t be further from the truth. If I could eat badly all the time and not have that start to impact my health or, sometimes, my sense of control, then I would, believe me. I just don’t see it that way.

And if / when you fail your diet and revert to your old ways, the schism inverts itself. You, who were on the pedestal, become just another failed dieter who cannot live up to their snobby health standards. Everyone in the office gets their smack of delicious schadenfreude. Oh, the taste of watching others fail is ambrosia to these people, like a melted ice cream, dropped by a sad child at the zoo. Again, never my intention, but certainly somewhat the attitude I have noticed from some colleagues or friends.

If the sense of isolation due to ‘snobby lifestyle choices’ wasn’t enough, dieting makes it almost impossible to enjoy social commitments centred around food. You’re going to your parents for Christmas dinner, you’re a vegan (you can scream in horror if you like) now. Your mum, who cooks delicious food, is definitely not a vegan, and as powerful as her food is to your olfactory schnozz, more powerful yet, are her opinions about ‘fad diets’.

At once you’re met with an interrogation, defiance and a lack of acceptance. In order to appease your family, you let go of your control or alienate yourself. The same is true for situations with friends. Want to meet up for a chat? Cafe, restaurant, pub? Your choice! You have options! Except, you don’t really have options… Most of the places people talk are also the places they eat. Society is defined by the community of food and eating. If you’re dieting, you can’t eat like others. You’re committing the social equivalent of sepukku (please do not look that up if you’re about to eat – actually, just don’t at any point if you can avoid it).

If all the endemic social and cultural obstacles were not enough to make you despair, think about this final, and potentially, most devastating schism, the otherness of your own attitude to something which you can neither give up, nor enjoy fully as other people seem to. You might be something close to an addict, but unlike an alcoholic, who may give up his vodka in his recovery, you cannot decide to give up eating. You are perpetually trapped into a cycle of emotional entrenchment with food, which you must repeatedly experience for the rest of your life.

Every time you eat, you are creating a divide between what you perceive food to be, and what food actually is. You are not like other people, who eat and enjoy food, but who do not have any emotional side effects every time they chow down on a delicious flaky pastry.

It’s just you. You’re the one who doesn’t get the enjoyment, but somehow obsesses over it more than the average person. What greater divide exists, than between a food addict’s perception of food, and the reality of its function? For the pensive among you, the power of the mind to separate us from reality can be one of the most potent causes of sadness in existence. Our mind’s relationship with food is no less devastating and chasmic in nature.

Dieting has so many benefits, but it’s also riddled with traps. Traps of social and cultural courtesy and expectation, but also traps in perception and judgement, both about the world around us, and about ourselves. Dietsolation is a real problem for many, especially those who have found food a source, equal parts despair and obsession. When division is rife in just about every segment of social life, from politics, to technology, to the repercussions of pandemics and protests, does food have to be another way for us to exclude one another?

No, I hope not, but it will take an understanding as to why some people diet in order to get there. When we learn to be less judgemental about dieting, when we appreciate what a diet entails at face value, we allow the distance to fall, and create opportunities for innovation in social life. Could we get a coffee to go, then take a walk in nature? Can we be supportive when friends or colleagues get on a health kick? Can we perhaps even listen to them when they feel down about their relationship with food? Understanding is the road to intimacy without food, and I want to be a part of that understanding. It’s why I’m writing this article to you now. 

Closeness shouldn’t only come from food, and for some, that requirement is vital to their health and happiness. 

100 Followers!

So here we are, 100 followers!

Thank you so much for joining with me on the road to better health.

I started this blog as a way to reconnect with nature and our health. This is something I strongly believe in and want to bring to everyone who’ll listen!

The thing is, health is often taken for granted, or not made a priority in our busy lives, and that is wrong.

We have never needed to prioritise our health more than we do now, as we are bombarded by stressful lifestyles, shorter time windows for eating, and food that is killing us, all while saying it’s curing us.

So, anyway, this is a brief thank you from me.

I know it’s early days yet and 100 doesn’t seem a lot, but I am so so SO grateful for the support of every single one of you.

This is as much a journey for me, as it is for you.

I think we can learn a lot together, raise each other up and grow into healthier people. I am so passionate about health and wellbeing, reclaiming your energy and autonomy from all the chronic pain and fatigue that can set in from poor diet, and generally living a happier life. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than share what I find with you beautiful people through this medium.

Here’s to unbridled self-improvement and personal success to all of us!

Keep learning, keep healthy and keep happy.

Julian

Students, You Should Get More Dietary Support At University

After living as a student for the typical three years in the UK, I KNOW for a fact that only the most minor fraction of students eat a healthy balanced diet.

Throw in copious amounts of alcohol, poor sleep, too much coffee (though coffee should not be seen as the enemy of digestive health) and stressful deadlines/ social engagements, and you have a recipe for DISASTER.

All of these factors have been shown to impact digestive health massively, and universities do absolutely nothing to support this process.

Many of you savvy readers may have heard of the gut-brain axis, how the state of your gut reflects the state of your mind. Depression is more and more seen as an issue of systemic inflammation in the body, which naturally impacts the brain (we should never think of the brain and the body as separate entities, they are very much reliant on, and influenced by, each other).

Students are the highest risk factor group in society for mental health issues, ranging from depression and anxiety most commonly, all the way to schizophrenia and bipolar less often.

In my mind, it doesn’t take a genius to pull the chords of connection together.

Students, having some of the most unhealthy lifestyles of any group in society, are suffering a mental health crisis because universities do not do enough to support their digestive health.

What blows my mind, having known that these places claim to be the epicentres of enlightenment, the pinnacles of intelligent discovery, is that there is still no self-reflective awareness of the impact of this stressful student lifestyle on student mental and physical health.

This is a tragedy which has lasting ramifications.

Though I am a firm believer in the power of the gut to heal itself under the right conditions, I also know that this is a process that can take YEARS. People can be set back whole periods of their life just because they are not being properly supported by their institution.

What is more, not everyone’s digestive health is equal. Some people make it through unscathed, others are brought to their knees. Those who already experienced mental illness before university, those who have neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and autism, and those with autoimmune disorders need even more care during this stressful time. I don’t think it’s fair that those who start out with poor digestive health should end up paying for that more than those who are resilient.

We need to be acknowledging this crisis and should be providing health workshops for university students. Showing them the tips and tricks which can bring health back into their lives, but won’t burn a hole in their wallet (we know you’re on a tight budget). Exams need to be arranged to avoid unreasonable stresses and allow good sleep. Controversially perhaps, I think freshers week is a disaster. Alcohol promotion gone wild. Stop pushing alcohol on young people who’s gut flora are more sensitive (studies are beginning to demonstrate that gut flora becomes more stable as you age, but may still be easily influenced in young people). Instead, foster a community where people can talk and play games together, even eat or cook a healthy meal together. This emphasis on booze is a catastrophe for students and irresponsible of learned institutions.

I spent three years at university and on reflection, I let the stress of this lifestyle damage my mental and physical health massively. Looking back on it, there was very little support and I had a sensitive constitution to begin with. I really suffered. My health deteriorated to such a point that by third year I had to move back in with my parents and drive to university for lectures and seminars. I was a wreck.

Students, don’t blame yourselves for your depression, anxiety or struggles with university. This is a very unnatural environment which puts multi-pronged stressors on your body. You are going to feel the impact of that, especially if you have a sensitive constitution. Instead, empower yourself and others to heal the damage, by learning which foods you can and cannot tolerate, and affording yourself the rest and relaxation needed for recovery.

I know I felt very alone in that environment and I could sense something wasn’t quite right, but it’s hard to put your finger on it when you’re in it.

I’m rooting for you and I hope this post makes you feel a bit more normal in a really strange place.

Please also like, comment and subscribe to heathen.life in the right top hand corner for more healthful information.

Keep well and learn to nourish your body.

J

Hypochondriasis

The other day I was talking to my mother about one of my closest friends who I had recently fallen out with.

A few weeks back, I had been suffering from a prolonged period of suffocation. I later found out that this was asthma, but it could as well have been exacerbated by anxiety. As anyone who has suffered from severe anxiety will know, it’s that crushing band around the chest, a weight on your lungs, not getting the full range from a breath.

This night I was suffering particularly badly and was struggling to breath so much that I messaged my friend (at the time we lived in the same house together). I told her that I couldn’t breathe properly and that I didn’t know what to do. And her response was ‘It’ll be fine’ and then she went to bed.

It struck me as an odd reaction and hurt my feelings. A bit of a betrayal if anything. I was terrified and I thought I was going to pass out. One of my closest friends couldn’t even raise an eyebrow about it. I would have liked to think, put in the reverse situation, I would have come down the steep stairs to the lower levels, passing the dusty kitchen and shadowy pot plants on twisted shelves, and comforted her. In fact, I have done in the past.

My mother is not one to provide comfort, so she immediately replied: ‘It’s like the boy who cried wolf, she probably knows what you are like and reacted like that as if it’s not a big deal.’

‘But I would have come to comfort her, if she were struggling’, I replied.

As usual, she brushed off a response that she didn’t want to hear or could not make sense of. She has an enraging habit of only hearing what she likes at the expense of the whole picture. She cannot be said to be motherly sort of mother, so her responses do not come from that soft-centred feminine place. They are entirely pragmatic.

But, it did make a twisted sort of sense. My friend has known me for a long time. I have been a hypochondriac for a long time too. I can understand how ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ factors into how people interact with me.

But, I can tell you this for a fact. Being a hypochondriac is a misery beyond all miseries. I BELIEVE I am ill. I don’t just think it. I am perpetually disturbed by thoughts about how illnesses that I cannot really confirm I have are slowly sapping my essence and dragging me closer to the cliff of death, to be tipped.

Hypochondria is a neurotic expression of the psyche’s search for many things. A prevailing sense that there is something wrong with the individual, manifesting not in a search in the subconscious, but in an obsession with the body and disease. It is also a manifestation of a need for attention and love which was not well fostered as a child. As I mentioned earlier, my mother is not much of one to give motherly feelings, even less so when I was a child. Hypochondria is a manifestation of a need for attention, for treatment, for care. On top of this, is the feverish attempts made to escape the authoritarian gaze of the care giver, be that a doctor or parent. We cannot bear the eye of those we wish to look upon us. It is a perfect storm of misery, often made worse, not better, by a simple doctor’s visit.

So, I beg you, when you deal with a hypochondriac, please, deal with them as if you imagined that they were suffering from a threefold need to be cared for, to seek their inner failings and to escape the gaze of the carer. This is distressing to say the least, but not something which comes across on the surface when dealing with a hypochondriac.

I cannot lie, I still feel justified in viewing betrayal in my friend’s actions, and unswayed by the discussion I had with my mother. I am a hypochondriac, but my suffering is real, and I am searching, perhaps often in the wrong place, for a way out. I want to be better, but like the boy who cried wolf, the more often I call out for help, the less compassion I receive.

All the while, the hypochondria churns and boils, and my mind is on fire with terrifying thoughts of death, disease and helplessness.

If you give us nothing else, give us love.

J

[Let us know in the comments if you suffer with health anxiety and how your relationships have been affected]